Content Intel—episode 20: optimizing your long tail content
Laura Dolan (00:01):
Hello, everyone and welcome to Content Intel, brought to you by Optimizely. I am your host, Laura Dolan, and we are joined by Erik Newton, VP of Marketing at Milestone Inc., who will be talking some testing and search engine optimization, or SEO, with us today. How's it going, Erik?
Erik Newton (00:16):
It's going great. Great to be with you.
Laura Dolan (00:18):
Thanks so much for taking the time to be here today. I'm just going to go into what your history is with search engine optimization and how you got into it.
Erik Newton (00:26):
Yeah, sure. So I started in search in the late 90s at MP3.com doing organic search and then when paid search came into play a year or two later, did that, and it's been part of my digital marketing repertoire through a number of Silicon Valley companies after that, including Netflix, TiVo, a company called Viddsee, BrightEdge. BrightEdge is an enterprise SEO company and it's a focus for Milestone. And what we do at Milestone is we help you tap the potential of your no-audience long tail content. And I think that value proposition should lead nicely into a couple other things we might want to talk about today.
Laura Dolan (01:06):
Let's talk about what SEO looks like today, as opposed to how differently it looked at its inception. So you've been working with SEO since the 90s, do you feel like it's evolved over the years?
Erik Newton (01:17):
Yeah, it has evolved, but rather than evolving to something new, it has arrived at where Google always wanted it to be. And that is that you create helpful, useful, relevant content, you put it on a good website that's easy to navigate and easy to consume, and you help people solve problems. If you think about searches, every search that's going into Google is a question. Every listing, every search result is an answer. If you think about it, we don't always put the question mark, but we're almost always looking for information or we're looking for a product or a price, and Google understands that. So when you are good at answering questions, when you are good at solving that query, that problem, Google rewards that with high rank that gets you, say, 15, 20, up to 25, 30% of all the traffic on that query will go to that first organic listing result, that first answer.
Laura Dolan (02:14):
Can you break down what constitutes successful metrics within your metadata?
Erik Newton (02:18):
If you think about your SEO program overall, you want a healthy portion of your traffic to be coming from SEO and organic. Why? Because it's better than paying for the traffic because it's more efficient and it has long term equity. When you get rank and position, you can usually hold it. Some of the things I did five years ago at my last company are still there, so you get multi-year equity from the efforts that you put in, maybe you get 10 or 15 or 20 B2B visitors per day on that content, you do that across 100 pieces of content, it's a significant contribution to your traffic. So the first thing is if you look at Google Analytics and you see that... I like to remove direct as a channel because it's not really a channel, it's dependent on the other channels.
Erik Newton (03:04):
So remove that from your calculation and try to get your SEO to be more than 50% of your traffic. It should be the majority of traffic. That's almost always true for B2B websites. And for B2C websites that don't do a lot of paid advertising, that should usually be the case. But you want healthy SEO so you can see that in your channel reporting in Google Analytics and you should set up your Google Search Console so that you have visibility into SEO specific data and reporting directly from Google. Those are the first couple things I would think about.
Laura Dolan (03:38):
Is there anything you could recommend what not to do when it comes to SEO? Keyword stuffing, for an example, is something I try to avoid when I'm writing. Is there anything else that content creators could avoid?
Erik Newton (03:52):
Yeah, just don't make bad content that's only made to appeal to a search engine. Just think about the user and think about solving problems. I think another problem that is really one you want to avoid is having a slow mobile website. Mobile website, webpage load speed is a critical factor for experience and is a rather significant factor for the algorithm and how you rank. And Google, even if you're a majority desktop website where most of your visitors are coming desktop, Google still evaluates your content from a mobile browser.
Laura Dolan (04:29):
Yeah, you definitely want to get that responsive design working for you because I would think most audiences now are on their mobile devices, looking at your websites, buying your products, things of that nature.
Erik Newton (04:42):
Laura, it's not as high as I thought it was going to be. I've been tracking the mobile share for about four or five years now and I saw it. I remember when Google was saying it's going to be 51% of traffic five, six years ago, and we're like, "Wow, that's huge. It's the majority." And I thought it would just keep going up to 80 or 90, but the truth is a lot of us at work are using our laptops for work purposes and we're taking breaks and we're still using the laptop. And a lot of us aren't commuting, we're not on public transit now, so we're not out and about as much. So on average, across industries, I see the mobile share of traffic at about 59% is fairly typical.
Erik Newton (05:19):
It's going to be higher for B2C websites and it's going to be quite a bit lower for B2B websites, down to about 20, 22%. So it definitely is significant and Google leans that way. And Google really leaned into a mobile first posture years ago, so it's important for those reasons, and it'll probably keep growing in the future as the mobile devices get better and they almost equal what we can do on screens.
Laura Dolan (05:45):
Do you think the pandemic had anything to do with that? If we didn't basically lose the last two years of having to quarantine and stay home, do you think that would've looked differently for mobile?
Erik Newton (05:59):
I think mobile would've kept growing. I think when people go to the office, think about how much time we used to be out away from our personal computers. And you don't want to go shopping on your work computer. You don't want to be on Amazon on your work computer during work hours, even if it's a break, but when you have your home computer you do different things on that then you do the shopping maybe over there when you're on a break. So I think the pandemic accelerated digital transformation.
Erik Newton (06:25):
I think for traditional non-tech companies that didn't invest a lot in digital and website and database and content and digital asset management and security and all those things, it was a big wakeup call because it accelerated by a couple of years the share of penetration say for a commerce company, for a retail company, the share shifted dramatically when we weren't allowed really to leave the house and go to the store, it didn't feel safe. So that definitely happened. And mobile definitely went down. I saw the data definitely go down. People would rather be on a big screen if you've gotten a fast connection than on the mobile connection in the mobile network generally.
Laura Dolan (07:07):
Yeah, I agree. I tend to gravitate more towards my laptop than my phone. Especially when I'm shopping, I want to see the product a little better on the bigger screen, even though you could definitely zoom in on your phone, but I just feel like it's more conducive on a laptop or a desktop than a phone.
Erik Newton (07:24):
I definitely feel the same way. So let's talk a little bit about what I call the content conundrum. And this is a term coined by Andy Bets and I really like it. And what the content conundrum is that 90% of the content on most websites that have been around for five or 10 years has no audience. So Ahrefs did a study that 91% of that content has no visibility in Google, so over time it's really getting almost no traffic. If it doesn't come from Google over time, it doesn't really have other sources among, say, 9,000 pages on your website.
Erik Newton (08:00):
So as a marketer, should you think about creating more content, which is a reflex, it's something like let's do more blogs, let's create more content, let's create more infographics, that's one thing you can do, but it's hard and there's a bit of a burnout factor there, or should you look at the content you have now and make it more visible. So if only 10% of your content really has an audience, if you could get that to 15%, it's a gigantic improvement in your organic performance. That's a 50% improvement. So how do you do that?
Laura Dolan (08:33):
How do you do that? And I find that a lot of companies are dealing with the issue of quality over quantity, so it's almost like we need to take a step back and instead of producing 10 blogs a week or 10 blogs a month, how can we pivot and put a little bit more quality into what already exists?
Erik Newton (08:53):
Definitely something all of us marketers go back and forth on. The first answer to your question of how many blogs or how many pages do I need to add to the website depends on how many pages you have. If you've got a 50-page website, you need to add content and you need to do it fairly briskly to get to 100, 200, 300, 500 pages. If you're a 500-page website, you have enough pages now to cover, say, 200, 300 topics that you could verticalize these pages so that they appeal to Google and rank well. But one of the techniques we've discovered at Milestone is entity optimization. And entity optimization is an evolution of traditional search. So it goes back of the answer to your first question of what should we be doing for SEO.
Erik Newton (09:39):
And what entities are, entities are people, places, or things, they're topics that you can think of them like what would be on a Wikipedia page. If Wikipedia covers it, it's an entity, it's a thing or a movie or a place or a building. And Google likes entities because it helps it organize the knowledge graph. So the first thing you want to do is make sure the page is about a thing. Don't make pages about five unrelated things, make sure a URL is associated with a primary topic. Then within the page, you want to optimize the entities that support the main entity. So if we're talking about Kyiv, well, Kyiv obviously is a place in Ukraine and then within Kyiv there can be pictures of buildings, there can be the war. The war can be a subtopic.
Erik Newton (10:28):
And if you think about it spherically like a graph, this is how Google understands which page is a good page about Kyiv. You could do the museums, the art, the buildings, the history, the culture, whichever you want to cover, but that is creating good content as to support the entity. Now, once you have entities, you want to add the vocabulary of entities, which is schema markup. Schema markup, we've all been hearing about it for 10 or 12 years, but it's really come into its own last few years. Milestone's been generating tremendous results on pages that have air free advanced schemas. So what we consider advanced schemas are eight to 12 schema types with dozens of attributes that you're feeding Google to do what's called disambiguate that content, that this is the answer that they're looking for so that it fits to in the graph, Google uses artificial intelligence or any kind of processing and says, "This is a good answer for that question."
Erik Newton (11:25):
So now we've gone from basic SEO to making your SEO operational and thinking about more content and more quality content, like you said, then we're adding schemas. So there's a problem too if you need to add the elements to the page for which schemas have been defined. So a couple of those that I've been working with lately are FAQs, how-tos, reviews, videos and images. Those are five big ones that are somewhat easy to understand and that most websites can add. Whereas, say, something like product and availability and things that are only applicable to retail are useful but not good for the whole audience we're speaking to now. So you can add FAQs. I recommend adding FAQs to a page directly rather than building out an FAQ section. In my view of it, Google seems to prefer giving a listing and with two FAQ rich results below it. So you get twice as much space in the SERP when you do FAQ as an entity against a topic, which is the page, the entity of the page, and you add the schema markup.
Laura Dolan (12:31):
How would that look on the front end? Would an FAQ be connected to, let's say, a blog or something like that?
Erik Newton (12:37):
Yeah, that's the really good way to think about it. So typically, I'm writing blogs lately that introduce the topic in the beginning, that have some data that orients the people, it talks a little bit about the industry, and as I go down to the middle and the bottom of the blog, I start adding questions, FAQs, essentially right into to the sub-headers. I make the sub-headers on H2 and an FAQ, then I mark it up with schema. And what I see Google doing is right after I mark it up with schema, about a week later it's recognized as FAQ rich results in the GSC reporting.
Erik Newton (13:10):
And that shows me that I'm getting picked up and I'm getting additional exposure, and I'm on my way to getting all the benefits that you get from being well placed in the knowledge graph. So you can just add it right in. Now, there's another technique I want to talk about, and that is you can write questions so you have something to put the schema on, but you can also go back and look at your sub-headers and convert standard sub-headers into questions and then recognize usually the first paragraph right after, the sub-head has the answer to that question. That's how the subtopic within the blog is organized.
Laura Dolan (13:44):
Right, that makes sense.
Erik Newton (13:46):
As you do all these things, Laura, you are doing things that are more difficult. It's less competitive when you do more difficult stuff. An FAQ is a step up from just writing paragraphs, and schema markup is a step up. You've either learned your schema skills or you're coming to a company like Milestone to get what we have a schema manager to help you do it and organize it and scale it. Another thing you can do is add how-tos, which are actually a bit more sophisticated even than an FAQ, because a how-to is like a step by step. How do you get up on a wakeboard? How do you use a wake surfboard? And how are those two things different? If that's your business. And you can do that on the page in an eight or 10-step thing, and Google loves it if you add images. Google absolutely will understand that the image that's associated with step three, because you do the schema markup, they'll understand that, and you will rank and because not very many other people are going to go to those lengths to be that didactic, to be that explanatory.
Erik Newton (14:50):
And you'll notice that a lot of the high-ranking content, maybe in your space and certainly in mine, are the people that are the most tutorial oriented and the how-to is something that Google loves in the knowledge graph and even more confident that you're answering the question of the query. Now, how do you do that? Well, you can make a how-to section, or you can look at the major subsections of your website, and you can add a few how-tos into the breadcrumbs, essentially go navigate one farther down to the three primary things you need to do for influencer marketing. How do you do influencer marketing? And you can have a page with a six-step plan and images.
Erik Newton (15:28):
Even better and even more difficult is if you add a video, and then you mark up the video and the video will chapterize. Have you've been noticing that in Google that when you're asking how do I fix my HVAC that it will mark the exact spot that answers the question, meaning that Google can now listen to the videos. Google's now interpreted the video, and it understands that the answer is there. And [crosstalk 00:15:53]
Laura Dolan (15:52):
I have seen that. Yes, it bookmarks the time bar, so instead of having to watch the entire video it's watch from five minutes and 12 seconds to 11 minutes and 22 seconds. It's actually really, really nice.
Erik Newton (16:04):
Right. It'll zoom, particularly in a long thing like in our podcast, like in this podcast, if Google's going to use this podcast and you've put it into text, Google might go to this how-to place for particularly if you use the schema markup and say, "Erik's talking about a how-to. How do you do how-tos?" And I actually just today published a how-to on how to do how-tos in the SEO section of my website.
Laura Dolan (16:31):
Erik Newton (16:32):
And of course it's got all the schema markup on it, and I'm going to be looking in about a week to see that it's ranking for how to do how-tos. So you and the audience can look for that. And if you find it, go ahead and email me at email@example.com.
Laura Dolan (16:47):
So the whole point of schema markup, and I've done schema in the past as well, is basically just you can't make it any easier for Google to find what you're trying to express. You're basically just siloing and isolating your keywords like this is what I want you to focus on, this is what I want you to crawl, and that's basically all there is to it, right?
Erik Newton (17:06):
That's right. You're being very clear. The technical term is disambiguate. So if you think about the word jaguar, jaguar is an animal, it's a car, it's a football team and probably a bunch of other things. So when somebody's looking in the query, if Google isn't sure, it's ambiguous, you don't get the best results, but if you're really focused on Jaguar cars, F-TYPEs, renting those cars in Palm Springs and you're very clear that it is the Jaguar car and you use all the car markup, Google definitely will put you above things that are a little bit off what you were looking for, the animal, the football team or something at the zoo.
Laura Dolan (17:45):
Right, that's fascinating. So when it comes to schema markup, what do you recommend companies do to prepare? If they have an in-house CMS, do you recommend that they program schema markup coding into their backend so that encourages everybody to do schema marking going forward?
Erik Newton (18:04):
It's not a decentralized function. It is a centralized function. So you want a schema expert in the company, or you want to get schema platform like Milestone's schema manager or plugin or something that works with your CMS and you want to define this and build it into the workflow of creating content, or even have the writers and stuff build towards it, and then have people mark it up. There's two ways to get it onto the page. And it's a markup the same way that metadata is. So it's not difficult code to manage, to add to any CMS if you're editing the HTML. So you can develop your schema architecture and put it on the page, but you have to be good enough to put the schema in each of the places, the price, the car, the type, the location, the availability, all those things.
Erik Newton (18:52):
You have to be knowledgeable enough to do that. And you could put that directly on the page or you could mark it up and deliver it through something like Google Tag Manager. Tag Managers will accept side loaded code and it'll deliver one 100th of a second latency to the bot when it arrives on the site. So you're creating all this stuff in the cloud essentially, and you're delivering it to the page. That's much easier from a maintenance and management standpoint when you're talking about a 10,000-page website or a 100,000-page website, which we have some really big customers in restaurants and retail that are managing that. And to do that at scale, it's way better if it's centralized and they've chosen to have us do that for them.
Laura Dolan (19:34):
Gotcha. Cool. Erik, well, being conscious of time, one thing I do want to ask is after you create your schema coding, and you get your keywords in there, what is the best way to go about testing its effectiveness?
Erik Newton (19:46):
The first thing you want is visibility. So were you effective in being recognized for your schema and for that you look into Google Search Console and on the left side, the menus, there's something called Enhancements. And you look and you see what percent of my pages have enhancements. Let's say I've got a 1000-page website, I've done a lot of hard work on 300 of those pages with my schema, I'd hope 100, 150, 180 of those pages are being recognized as enhanced pages that Google is saying, "These ones are done pretty well. These ones are finished." Now, the next thing you want to do is say, "Am I getting more impressions? Am I getting more rank? Am I getting more traffic? And is it helping my business?" Because it's just nerdom if you're doing something because it's a vogue technique, but what you really want are results, business results moving down the funnel, are people coming to the website and are they converting?
Erik Newton (20:44):
There's a click, there's a sub-menu within Google Search Console called search appearance that will give you the graph. And what we see is the hockey stick about three weeks after we deploy a lot of schemas on all these topics we've been talking about and these assets we've been talking about that you see a big jump and some we're typically averaging 20 to 40% jump in impressions and clicks for these pages that have gotten these really good, advanced schemas on them. We see those results picking up. That's what you want to see. And then of course assuming it's normal quality traffic, it should be converting between say 0.75% and 2%, 3%, and you should be getting the down funnel revenue. That's the ROI on your efforts. Because this isn't easy work.
Erik Newton (21:33):
You're doing content work, you're doing technical work, you're doing better teamwork and project management, and you want to see those results. So how would you test it? The way we test it is just a traditional A/B test. If we want to prove to a customer, we do free POCs for our customers because people are reluctant, sometimes it's a big commit and we can just do 20 pages in a test. We pick 20 good active pages on a website, and that have 20 equivalent pages and we will entity optimized and put the schemas on 20 pages and not 20 pages. And then you just compare those like you would A/B, did the rank change? Did the traffic change? Did the visibility change? And while Google says that schema's not a ranking factor, it is a ranking requirement for you to show up as a rich result.
Erik Newton (22:23):
You can't have an FAQ rich result. Almost 90% of everything I'm looking at has the schema markup on it. The articles are often to be in the articles. So while it's not a ranking algorithm factor, it is a ranking requirement. It's just binary on some of these. So you'll just see a big jump in exposure. And another one is the reviews. When you do the reviews with a schema on them, your review stars show up on your listing. Have you been seeing that lately? A couple of the listings in the SERPs have their review stars showing up.
Laura Dolan (22:58):
Erik Newton (22:58):
Makes the result more colorful and something a little special about it, oh, our ratings are typically 4.5, 4.8. And what we did is we took our G2 widget, we put that on the site with schema, and then they started showing up in our site results.
Laura Dolan (23:16):
Very cool. This has been really valuable, Erik. Thanks so much. How can our audience find you if they want to get more information?
Erik Newton (23:23):
Sure. You can come to milestoneinternet.com. Look in our resources section for some of the research that we've published on these topics. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me on LinkedIn at slash Erik Newton. And if you try to connect with me there, go ahead and tell me that you heard me on Laura's show, so I'll know where you came from. And I look forward to talking with you.
Laura Dolan (23:47):
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Erik. This has all been very insightful, so I really appreciate your time. And thank you all so much for tuning into this episode of Content Intel. I'm Laura Dolan. I will see you next time.
Laura Dolan (24:02):
Thank you for listening to this episode of Content Intel. If you'd like to check out more episodes or learn more about how we can take your business to the next level by using our content, commerce, or optimization tools, please visit our website at optimizely.com, or you can contact us directly using the link at the bottom of this podcast blog to hear more about how our products will help you unlock your digital potential.